ACT & SAT Scores Remain Stable

University Testing

Despite the expected confusion about the meaning of the first annual SAT scores reported under the recentered scale (see Examiner, Spring 1994), there was little real news in this year's release of test results for high school seniors who graduated last spring. Both ACT and SAT scores rose slightly from the previous year, as they have in the recent past, and the relative standing of racial, gender and income groups remained unchanged (see charts).


Perhaps of more lasting impact was the intensive effort of the promoters of both exams to get the public to refer to the tests solely by their shortened names. As first reported by FairTest (see Examiner, Fall 1994), the College Board wants its exams to be called SAT I (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test and then Scholastic Assessment Test) and SAT II (former Achievement Tests). In a memo to reporters the College Board said, "SAT is not an initialism; it does not stand for anything." Truer words were never spoken.


Not to be outdone, the College Board's main competitor announced that it wants to be identified as simply ACT, not American College Testing.


Whatever they are to be called, the tests purport to measure "readiness" for college studies using very different approaches. (In fact, neither test claims to account for even one-fifth of the difference in students' first year college grades). While the SAT is still proudly "curriculum free" and based on such esoteric topics as "analogy" and "quantitative comparison" problems, the ACT is much more closely linked to the subjects regularly studied in high school. The SAT is also "formula scored" with a penalty for wrong answers to deter wild guessing while the ACT is "correct answer scored" with no deduction for errors.


The fact that the SAT is a fast-paced, multiple-choice mind game with a premium on strategic guessing, while the ACT is more like a classroom exam (though still in the multiple-choice format) is one reason the SAT's gender gap is so much larger. It may also explain the slightly larger racial differences on the SAT than on the ACT.



 SAT I Scores  V M V+M 
 American Indian  483  477  960
 Asian American  496  558  1054
 Black  434  522  856
 Mexican American  455  459  914
 Puerto Rican  452  445  897
 Other Hispanic  465  466  931
 White  526  523  1049
 Other  511  512  1023
 All Test Takers  505  508  1013
 All Males  507  527  1034
 All Females  503  492  995


 Annual Family Income  SAT I V+M
 less than $10,000  873
 $10,000 - $20,000  920
 $20,000 - $30,000  964
 $30,000 - $40,000  992
 $40,000 - $50,000  1016
 $50,000 - $60,000  1034
 $60,000 - $70,000  1049
 $70,000 - $80,000  1064
 $80,000 - $100,000  1085
 more than $100,000  1129

source: College Board, 1996 Profile of College Bound Seniors.  

 ACT Scores  Composite
 American Indian/Alaskan Native  18.8
 Asian American/Pacific Islander  21.6
 Afro American/Black  17.0
 Mexican American/Chicano  18.7
 Puerto Rican/Cuban/Other Hispanic  18.9
 Caucasian American/White  21.6
 All Test Takers  20.9
 All Males  21.0
 All Females  20.8

source: ACT, 1996 ACT Assessment Results.